Brain-altering fungus might revolutionize mental health treatment 2023


If you were one of the millions who saw HBO’s “The Last of Us,” you surely know how dangerous fungus can be.

Parasitic fungus govern the brains of post-apocalyptic zombies. Its plausibility scares me. Parasitic or “zombie” fungus change hosts’ minds and behavior.

Luckily, Cordyceps zombie fungus only infect insects. The fungus uses them to distribute its seed-like spores. Insects eat spores, which germinate and release substances that disrupt the brain.

The fungus makes the insect ascend. After attaining a favorable position for fungal survival, the fungus produces the “death grip” and devours its victim from the inside out, producing spore-containing mushrooms from the insect carcass.

Mind-altering fungi

Some fungus create little compounds, or metabolites, that change our thinking. Recent study suggests these may be helpful. Magic mushrooms contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. Another fungal psychedelic is LSD.

Fungi cause hallucinations. To ease death, Aztecs fed dying people magic mushrooms.

Fungal metabolites’ neurological advantages and potential to treat mental health disorders have sparked a surge of interest. Given fungal metabolites’ nervous system interactions, it makes sense.

Our brains are maps. We link all corners of this map as children to make sense of our world. After learning fundamental realities like how to get food and where we live, our neural pathways improve.

Our individual experiences form a network. Re-visited areas grow trails, while under-used ones disappear.

Addiction, persistent sadness, and PTSD are characterized by repetitive negative thinking or rumination, which is unhelpful. These enhance brain connections that maintain the negative mental state.

Fungal metabolites may allow our brain to revisit unfamiliar territory. Recent study reveals that psychedelic “trips” represent unique brain exploration.

Psilocybin activates 5-HT2a brain receptors. Serotonin, which governs nerve cell transmission, generally binds to this receptor. However, psilocybin binding to the 5-HT2a receptor helps our brain adapt and form new connections (including hallucinations at large dosages). Neuroplasticity increases.

A single high dose of psychedelics has a short-term effect, while two smaller doses of psilocybin three weeks apart boost brain connections. Neuroplasticity alterations may disturb mental health problems’ fixed cognitive processes.

By enhancing neuroplasticity, psychedelics may help individuals see life differently. Psychedelics and talking therapy may help uncover the root cause of negative mental patterns. This might stop the cycle following therapy. In individuals with major depressive illness, combining treatment with psilocybin extended anti-depression.

Fungal metabolites cure anxiety, depression, and alcoholism, according to more research. These studies also show that psilocybin can relieve symptoms after one or two doses, while antidepressants may take months.

No cure-all.

Psychedelics aren’t a miraculous treatment since we don’t know enough. Most psychedelic research are preliminary due to low participant numbers. Experts disagree on psychedelic treatment’s effectiveness. Psychedelics are potent, unexpected, and their safety and long-term consequences are uncertain.

Given the mental health crisis, every novel therapy for these conditions—especially treatment-resistant ones—must be carefully evaluated and well explored.

Excitingly, several nations acknowledge psychedlics’ mental health advantages. In 2022, Australia authorized medical psilocybin. Multiple research organizations are testing fungal metabolites’ mental health advantages despite the UK’s psychedelic ban.

Fungal metabolites offer significant promise in mental health treatment, but we don’t know if other chemicals affect brain function similarly. Perhaps we should stop seeing illegal fungal drugs as bad and start seeing brain-altering psychedelics as medicine.

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